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Running Head: TRAGEDY


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Tragedy Defined

Tragedy is a concept defined mostly by the era the word was used in. Historically, the

word had different meanings in Greek period, in the medieval period, and in the Elizabethan

and the Shakespearean era, so it is no surprise that currently the use of word isn’t exactly in

the same sense as any of aforementioned periods. Let us first see historically what the word

had been used for.

Aristotle defined tragedy as “a form of drama exciting the emotions of pity and fear

…. presenting a reversal of fortune, involving persons renowned and of superior


For a hero to ignite these feelings in the audience, he should neither be all good or all

bad, but ought to be one with whom audience can relate with. This “tragic pleasure” was

amplified by showing the hero superior in one way or other, his/her fall results from a

misunderstanding, which was a result of some judgmental flaw or error. Usually the drama is

provided by an excessive pride causing the hero to neglect a godly warning or to break a

sacred law. Generally the hero's sufferings are greater than his/her offense and because the

audience thought that they could also commit the same mistake, so they found themselves

more attached and felt pity.

In the medieval period tragedy was supposed as a turnaround of fate, usually a fall

from a high position.

The Elizabethans period was of romantic tragedy, highlighted by Shakespearean

masterpieces like Richard II, Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear.

Social problems, like alcoholism or prostitution have become the driving force behind

the modern day tragedies. The characters portrayed belong to common gentry nowadays.
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Often the author explores the issue at hand and his proposed solution in an iconoclastic way

most of the times causing controversies in audiences and critics. Modern day tragedy usually

materializes from one's disagreement with the laws, norms, values, culture and traditions of

the society.

Oedipus The King

Oedipus is a classic yet quintessential example of Greek tragedy writing. The rise and fall of

a distinguished person and an inevitable prophecy were the mantra for success in those times

for any writer. The intrusion of fate element, to provide the audience a doze of the “tragic

pleasure”, was too obvious in the plot. In short one can easily identify it as a Greek period

tragedy even if you tore away its title page.

Death of a Salesman

Lomans were an archetypical example of a family unable to distinguish between illusion and

reality. The tendency to lapse into past and reliving the glory days is a commonly

experienced phenomenon. But with Willy, the tormented soul, the problem was being unable

to come over his daydreaming. Death of a Salesman is more of a satire on society than a



There feels like a general consensus between the tragedy writers of every era about the

“Tyranny of Destiny”. Both the tragedies have shown their lead characters completely (and

also the support characters to a great deal) subservient to the forces of luck and fortune. The

characters of Oedipus and Willy, though 2400 years apart, seemed to be exuding the same

message of human fallibility and mortality. Similarly, the influence of kismet and the nature

in shaping our future has been highlighted in both the tragedies wonderfully. The relationship

of a husband and a faithful wife was beautifully highlighted in both the tragedies when

Jocasta abandons her infant son in mountains to save her husband Laius. A similar case was
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presented in Death of a Salesman when Linda accused both her sons as the cause of grief for

their father. Another similarity in the tragedies was the fact that both the protagonists suffered

through their own hands, Oedipus makes himself blind and exiled himself from Thebes and

Willy committed suicide.

These similarities clearly signify that no matter how high the modern age man has ascended

the downward journey from the pinnacle is still the same in all these years.


The differences in both the tragedies were more due to the difference in time of their

conception. The Greek period demands a hero who is noble, blue-blooded and belongs to the

highest echelon of the society. Whereas, the concept of a traditional hero doesn’t exist

anymore in modern tragedy, and has been replaced by a more common-man-like protagonist.

Oedipus shows a fall of a hero from the zenith of his success (king of the state) and Willy

was a loser from the beginning. Oedipus descends because of forces of nature and Willy was

already plunging in the depths of failure from the beginning. In Death of a Salesman there

was a minor focus on discussing the social problems like infidelity, drinking and breaking

relationships, this tinge of social issues was lacking in the Oedipus. We can deduce that

Oedipus fails to highlight the life of common man in Greece in those days (the account

presented on few occasions was more high-class-centric).

These differences explain that with the passage of time a great deal of differences in the

technique of tragedy writing have developed and the modern tragedy writing has evolved to

encompass the lives of even common man.